My Feminine Side is Feeling Patronized

I’m heading to Interbike 2012. Some of the preliminaries have already begun, such as the Outdoor Demo. I’ve never been to that, but apparently it’s held outdoors and you get to ride a bunch of different bikes.

This being my third time to the annual trade show for the American Cycling Industry, I’m getting my system down. My boss, Josh, combs the floor in a systematic way meeting with manufacturers we work with, and ones we may work with in the future. I walk around in an overstimulated daze.

But one thing that I’ve been really watching is how the industry is responding to women. And nothing I’ve seen at Interbike — ever — has impressed me as something that I would like if I were a woman. Of course, I don’t really know what I would be like if I were a woman. Probably it wouldn’t be just the same me, but with lady parts.

But my job is marketing, and I’m supposed to figure this stuff out.

If Apples Were Marketed Like Bikes

In my view, most people in the industry are doing it wrong. And if they’re not, well, it says something really depressing about women.

After last year’s Interbike, I was all fired up to generate a discussion on what I thought was the condescending approach to making cycling products for women. I saw lots of bikes, and bike bags, and cycling clothes that really offered (in my mind) nothing creative or specifically for women cyclists — except on the superficial level: Pretty colors and flowers — oh so many flowers.

Vaude Evas Shopper Rear Pannier
Vaude Evas Shopper Rear Pannier

I began drafting a rant in my head for the next time I could talk to some women cyclists.

When it happened, I was with a couple of women in the shop. We were talking about marketing to women, and evaluating a shopping pannier. It supposedly was designed for women, but what did it really offer them? Big handles. That was it. As far as we could tell, this had nothing but oversize handles that would be embarrassing for a man to lug around.

“Yes!,” I said. “Those big ornamental, superfluous handles designed with the degrading assumption that women are frivolous consumers concerned only with fashion.”

“And,” said one of the women, “why couldn’t they at least put a flower on it?”

“What!? A flower? I could get a Sharpie pen and draw a flower on it!”

An Open Letter to Interbike
The preliminary reports are not encouraging. | Screen Shot:

“It would look nicer, and women would like it.”


Obviously these women were not the allies I had hoped for. It was then that I abandoned my intentions to rally women to express their thoughts about product selection and marketing in the cycling industry.

But last week was the National Women’s Bicycling Summit, and I didn’t go. I wish I could have. My desire to rail against flowers has not diminished.

At Bike Shop Hub, we’d like to start selling more products made for women. But I’d rather market to real women, and not merely to stereotypes of women. So until I get some bright ideas, we just plug along selling (mostly) gender-neutral utilitarian products.

I’m hoping that at Interbike this year I’ll meet some women or men who were also at the Women’s Summit.

Maybe they can give me some first-hand accounts of the efforts to take women seriously as cyclists.

Be watching for blog posts, Facebook posts, tweets, etc. from Interbike.

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24 thoughts on “My Feminine Side is Feeling Patronized”

  1. Ken says:

    Maybe you should develop a line of flowers that can be quickly sewn, stuck, or pinned onto gender-neutral utilitarian products that will render them a women’s product. While you’re at it, develop a line of flashy tribal insignia that can create a men’s product. And now I’m removing my tongue from my cheek.

  2. Graham says:

    At the risk of repeating myself and sounding like a troll, I still don’t understand what accessories or features female cyclists might need or want that are different from men?

    Maybe no one else can figure that out either, which is why there isn’t a “women’s line?” I don’t know, but it seems like a bike trailer is a bike trailer; it either hauls what you need to carry or it doesn’t.

    I can understand that women’s bodies are proportioned differently from men and so bikes with tight size constraints (road bikes, mostly) benefit from tweaked designs, but those actually exist and don’t seem to be what you’re talking about.

    I guess I’m suffering from a lack of perspective. Can someone help me out?

  3. Rockfish says:

    Put a bird on it!

    Seriously though – check out Elly Blue (@ellyblue) for some good discussion on this very topic.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      @Rockfish: Yep. I read that. I think Elly addresses one part of the problem, which is to stop treating women in cycling as mere inconsequential eye candy. But what about complaint (that Elly doesn’t address in that article) that the industry doesn’t make enough woman-specific products? Okay. What are woman-specific products? I’m here at Interbike now, and I’m looking around and (so far) I’m not seeing anything woman-specific other than pretty colors and marketing. Put a flower on it. Women will eat it up.

  4. BluesCat says:

    One granddaughter is 3, the other one will turn 2 this November. The Older One has a little red, generic, Big Box Store tricycle she can pedal almost as fast as Grampa on his mountain bike. So I’m thinkin’ I should get her a real, two-wheeler with training wheels … and hand-me-down the trike to The Younger One.

    I showed their mother a picture of a Trek Jet 12. How cool is that!?! Fenders, and big lettering, and …

    She wasn’t impressed. Then she flipped the page to the Trek Mystic 12. “THAT would work, except for one problem,” she said, “We’d have to get TWO of them.”

    * sigh *

  5. Jeff Gardner says:

    Ted, you are brave to take on something much larger than our bike commuting part of the world.

    We all fuel this fire when we engage the nonsense of saying “men and women” about this or that instead of saying “people”.

  6. JaimeRoberto says:

    Since you sell bike products, what do your sales numbers tell you? Manufacturers wouldn’t make women’s products if nobody was buying them.

  7. BluesCat says:

    Hey! Bottom line: Sex Sells.

    I Googled “Sexy Lingerie” and found around 10 shops within a 5 mile radius of my house. That’s more stores than all of the bike shops within a 10 mile radius of my place.

    Wanna sell “women specific” bike gear? Make it sexier than tight fitting Lycra!

    Do don’t think GUYS are wearin’ all that stuff, do ya?

  8. Janice in GA says:

    This is a really interesting post to me.

    I’m not very girly. I don’t wear dresses or heels when I ride a bike, though I don’t have issues with women who want to wear those things. I almost never buy bike jerseys. I hate pink.

    I don’t hesitate to buy male-targeted items if they’re what I need. They’re often cheaper than items targeted to women.

    The one specifically woman-targeted line that I really like is Po Campo bags. They’re cute, but PRACTICAL. I don’t think too many guys would be interested in them. I’d have a bunch of them if I could afford them, even though I don’t carry a pocketbook. 🙂

    Other than that, I can’t really think of other woman-specific stuff that I’d go out of my way to buy. But I suspect I’m an outlier here.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Thanks! I’ll check out Po Campo while I’m here in Vegas. They have a booth.

  9. Erikonil says:

    Honestly as a woman all I would want is just what the guys get only cut for a woman’s shape. As it stands right now when I got to my local bike shop I spend more time looking through the men’s section for clothing and trying to find something that kinda fits just because I *hate* having pink/flowers/pastels as my only options.

    Harlot Clothing Co right now is one of the few places that I can find bike clothing that I can not only afford, but really dig the look.

  10. Keith says:

    Just getting into cycling recently, and shopping for gear I noticed that a large amount of products being pushed are absurdly sexist. I was looking at this the other day (scroll down):

    and was reminded of this (the reviews are hilarious!):

  11. Graham says:

    Those reviews are hilarious!

  12. Steffanie says:

    I’m a woman in the city and I commute by bike. Here’s what I’d like to be able to buy:

    — skirt guards. Had to make my own

    — fashionable (preferably black) clothing cut for a woman’s body with reflective features for biking at night, but fashionable enough to have on at my destination. In particular, I’d like a light, 3/4 length black trench coat that I can wear to work/wear out with reflective tape along the seams/edges.

    — SPF clothing I can wear to ride, but keep on at work

    — something to make the bike helmet cuter, like a cover that isn’t ugly and has some reflective tape for visibility

    — something like spats that are knee-length and will protect my hose/shoes while I’m on the bike but don’t look ridiculous when I am walking into my destination.

  13. Kevin Love says:

    Women’s bicycles are bikes to do things that women need to do. For example, here is a video of the Japanese mamachari in action. My advice is to skip over the 1:10 of someone yapping about what you are about to see and go straight to seeing it at:

  14. Shanna Ladd says:

    I live in Alaska and commute by bike. last winter we had a record breaking snow fall. This season we’ve had record breaking rain. I commute 20 miles per day. I take snow machine and 4 wheeler trails. Needless to say, a skinny bike just doesn’t make it. My daughter got a Fat Bike. And that is what I will be riding come october. Problem: it doesn’t come in our size. The same holds true for real outdoor gear. If we need to pick something up from the store, it comes it xxl mens size. My daughter and I are fairly small women. Neither of us care about flowers when it comes to biking.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      Shanna: That’s a problem worth investigating. Have you looked at bikes by Fortune Hanebrink?

  15. Shanna Ladd says:

    Wow!! That is great!! Thank you for the link. those bikes are a bit spendy for me at this point but will be on my wish list since my daughter & I would like to ride to Nome. since removing out car from our insurance and not having to spend money on gas, we could save up for that!!

    size & selection/options has been our main challenge.

    I’m also looking for a lockable, hard case bike carrier that is bear proof. We travel by bike thru bear country with our groceries and food for work & school. Since the trail is rough it is best to have cases that attach directly to the bike.

    Black is a nice color since it doesn’t show mud/dirt.

    Thanks again for the info. Very nice!

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      I don’t know about their bear-proofness, but Onda makes hard-shell (plastic) locking rack-top trunks for bikes.

      Ortlieb used to make a metal bike trunk cases. You might be able to find them used. Photos only here:

      But don’t you need something built like a tank to keep out bears?

  16. Shanna Ladd says:

    Hi, Thanks for the link.

    This is a very nice, informative web site for commuting by bike.

    There are round bear proof containers made for back packing. I didn’t really like the round part, but that may be what makes them bear proof. I’ll probably invest in some. normally not an issue but the fish season makes me a little more concerned.

    Thanks again.

  17. Shanna Ladd says:

    Ted Johnson, Not necessarily a tank, but it would be nice to have something square…

  18. Anaf. says:

    I agree with your astute point that by simply making something pink or slapping a flower on it, a product is not automatically a women’s bag/bike/helmet. I also understand the idea that women may not need inherently different products for cycling than men, but I totally disagree. Most “women’s” biking clothing is cut far too square to be flattering and in colors that aren’t wearable off the bike. The biggest issue I’ve seen is that most bags aren’t designed to be comfortable for women. They may have extra handles or some small design feature, but the straps dig into/cut across the breasts and backpacks aren’t fashionable off a bike. Nobody, not even independent sellers on Etsy, has come up with a proper solution and that’s incredibly frustrating.

  19. TC says:

    I know this thread is two years old at this point, but I just stumbled on it and the apple graphic made me laugh a lot. It’s so true!

    I’m a small woman who ~HATES~ women’s marketing with passion. I find it so offensive that companies feel the need to put glitter, flowers, and bows on everything they sell to women.

    For example, when I’m buying socks, that’s really all that I need: socks. I really, honestly don’t need socks with kittens and lace, but you’d be amazed at how hard it is to find generic women’s socks, shirts, underwear, bicycles, etc. I often buy boys products because they kind of fit (sort of), and they’re not pink and covered in sequins.

    Anyway, just wanted to say that this post rocks and I’m 100% with you on it. I get angry with companies that think the best way to market to women is by sticking flowers on products. Maybe that works with some women, but I personally avoid those products. I find it offensive, honestly.

  20. Hey Ted,
    Thanks for taking on this topic. We women don’t make it easy – I know women who “Ride Like a Girl,” and women who “Ride Like a Guy.” So what’s a manufacturer to do? My sister and I, for example, don’t agree on many things cycling. We are both women, both cyclists, both in our late 50’s, both live in Portland. And yet – we have many a disagreement on bike-related stuff. So I don’t think there’s an easy answer – we are a gender of varied sub-types. Men are too. Find your niche and focus on it. I don’t think you can possibly appeal to “women riders” as a whole! But don’t patronize us! And don’t objectify us! We pretty much consistently hate that.

    One of my favorite chick bicycle things (and I’m a chick) is Gladys Bikes’ Saddle Library. Gladys is a woman-owned shop here in Portland, and so they really get it – every woman has a different saddle requirement. So for a $25 one-time fee you can join the Saddle Library and check out a saddle for a week. Ride with it. See how it feels. Exchange it for another. And another. Until you find one that’s really comfortable for YOU! And then your $25 goes toward the purchase of your new saddle.

    For a woman, the saddle is a damned important component of the bike, and the cycling experience – whether riding to the grocery store, or across the country!

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